French team, local investigators scour air crash site for clues

Published May 28, 2020
Four more bodies identified; cockpit voice recorder not found yet. — AFP/File
Four more bodies identified; cockpit voice recorder not found yet. — AFP/File

KARACHI: Experts belonging to Airbus continued to examine and collect evidence for the second day on Wednesday along with official investigators of the Air­craft Accident and Investi­gation Board (AAIB) about last week’s crash of a Pakistan International Airlines airliner.

However, the investigators were still looking for the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) of the A320 aircraft carrying 99 passengers and crewmembers that crashed on May 22 in a residential neighbourhood of Model Colony while trying to make an emergency landing at Karachi airport. Only two passengers miraculously survived the accident.

PIA spokesperson Abdullah H. Khan said four more bodies were identified on Wednesday and that a total of 47 bodies had been identified and 43 of them handed over to their relatives for burial.

The 11-member team of Airbus, the manufacturer of the A320 aircraft, had arrived here on Tuesday to offer technical assistance to Pakistani investigators in the PK-8303 crash probe.

Four more bodies identified; cockpit voice recorder not found yet

The PIA spokesperson said the team of French experts continued their work alongside local investigators of the AAIB, visited the crash site, and collected evidence. They reached the scene of the crash in the morning and spent several hours there. Later, they visited the airport and inspected some facilities there.

However, except for a brief response from the PIA spokesperson there was no official word either from the Civil Aviation Authority or the Aviation Division about their activities.

The missing CVR

While the flight data recorder (FDR) of the ill-fated aircraft was found on the day of the crash, Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan disclosed in a statement on Tuesday night that CVR was yet to be found.

Both FDR and CVR are the two key components of the ‘black box’ of an aircraft. In the present case, the CVR is of more importance because it records all sounds, including pilots’ conversations, in the cockpit.

The PIA spokesperson confirmed to Dawn that CVR had not been found till Wednesday evening but efforts were continuing to locate it.

He said the AAIB was conducting an independent investigation, and reaching conclusions “based on hearsay and political statements is not only unfair but hurts the sentiments of the families of the deceased, airline’s employees and Pakistani citizens”.

Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Fazl Pechuhu said on Wednesday that all unidentified bodies of the air crash victims would be handed over to their legal heirs after identification in seven days.

She said the forensic laboratory of the International Centre for Chemical and Biological Science had been working round the clock since the plane crash to complete the work of DNA matching.

She said the lab had already completed DNA profiling of 59 relatives and the work on cross-matching them with samples taken from 54 bodies was going on.

The PIA spokesperson said that identification and handing over of the bodies on the basis of DNA tests had already begun. “The DNA testing and verification is a lengthy process and requires time. However, PIA and the authorities concerned are taking all-out measures to hand over the bodies of the victims to their family members,” he said, without disclosing whether the task was being performed solely by the Sindh government or experts from Punjab were also involved in it.

The PIA was making travel arrangements for the family members of the deceased and arranging transportation of the bodies to their hometowns, he added.

One-window operation

After family members of the plane crash victims made numerous complaints about lack of an effective communication protocol and over alleged slow DNA testing, PIA chief executive officer Air Marshal Arshad Malik formed a one-window operation.

An example was that of Adil Rehman, who lost both his parents in the plane crash. In a series of tweets on Tuesday, he said: “I lost both my parents in this tragic & horrific crash. I submit to Allah’s will. However the ordeal we are suffering at the hands of #PIA is inexcusable. Callous, Insensitive, incompetent....”

In what appeared to be a response to such complaints, the PIA spokesperson said that Air Marshal Malik had personally contacted the family members of the deceased, expressed his condolences and assured them of all possible support and assistance at this time of grief.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2020

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